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Premier Properties retreats into bankruptcy

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Premier Properties USA Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday, narrowly avoiding the appointment of a receiver to take control of the troubled Indianapolis company.

In a Chapter 11 filing, the firm that developed Metropolis mall in Plainfield listed 20 creditors owed a total of more than $2.8 million. It did not include millions of dollars in unpaid bills connected to specific properties-including Metropolis, Plainfield Commons and several malls in other states-that the company no longer controls.

Premier has not yet provided a list of its own assets, although the filing says the total will range between $1 million and $10 million.

The bankruptcy filing could signal the end for a 15-year-old company built on outsize deals with little margin for error. Premier and its founder, Christopher P. White, face numerous lawsuits alleging unpaid bills, defaulted loans and check fraud - trouble that began to mount last year as credit-market turmoil put a stop to easy credit.

Telephone calls this morning to Premier's headquarters in the Woodfield Crossing office complex on the far-northeast side went unanswered. Premier's bankruptcy attorney, William J. Tucker, did not return a telephone message.

The filing - signed by White, the firm's president, sole director and sole shareholder - is classified as an emergency because "a creditor's attempt to take control of entity threatens" Premier's ability "to conduct a viable business."

One of Premier's largest lenders took control of Metropolis and most of the company's other malls earlier this month. Omission of debts relating to those properties - including for landscaping and snow removal - suggests Premier will argue those debts should stick with the properties, not the company.

That argument probably won't sit well with creditors, said Ice Miller attorney Henry Efroymson, who represents Atlanta-based Dominion Capital Management LLC, which now controls most of Premier's properties.

"As a legal matter, the issue is whether or not Premier is the party obligated to pay," Efroymson said. "There are creditors out there that would disagree with the list provided by Premier Properties."

Efroymson is asking for the court's help in obtaining records relating to the properties Dominion now controls. He said Premier has not cooperated with his requests.

The filing lists California-based The Jerde Partnership Inc. as Premier's largest creditor, owed $437,000. Jerde designed the plans for Venu, a $750 million retail, office and residential giant the company had proposed for the southwest corner of 86th Street and Keystone Avenue.

Other top creditors include Ohio-based Divaris Real Estate, Chicago-based Business Furniture LLC and Pennsylvania-based Langholz Wilson Ellis Inc. Premier also owes two Indianapolis law firms: Baker & Daniels is due $127,000, and Barnes & Thornburg is owed about $70,000.
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